How Do Great Leaders Keep Their Team Focused and Execute Decisions Well?

What’s at stake if teams don’t make better team decisions? From a long list of potential answers, four stand out:

  • Lost time: Poor team decision-making simply burns more time. It may be more time in the meeting itself, because there were no collaboration guidelines. Perhaps it’s lost time outside of the meeting in hallway conversations, because ideas weren’t fully explored or vetted.
  • Dissipated energy: Poor team decision-making leaves questions unanswered and half-baked solutions in the atmosphere. We don’t know exactly where we stand or what we’ve decided. The thought of revisiting an unfinished conversation itself is an unwelcome burden.
  • Mediocre ideas: Poor team decision-making fortifies our weakest thinking. Innovation is something we read about but never experience. We cut-n-past the ideas of others, because we don’t know how to generate our own. We traffic in good ideas and miss great ones.
  • Competing visions: Poor team decision-making invites an unhealthy drift toward independence. No one has the conscious thought that they have a competing vision. But in reality, there are differences to each person’s picture of their future. It’s impossible for this divergence not to happen if there is no dialogue.

So, how do you start to create a dynamic of collaborative decision-making?

Utilizing cognitive diversity.

THE QUICK SUMMARY
A groundbreaking book that sheds new light on the vital importance of teams as the fundamental unit of organization and competition in the global economy.

Offering vivid reports of the latest scientific research, compelling case studies, and great storytelling, Team Genius shows managers and executives that the planning, design, and management of great teams no longer have to be a black art. It explores solutions to essential questions that could spell the difference between success and obsolescence.

Throughout, Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone share insights and real-life examples gleaned from their careers as journalists, analysts, investors, and globetrotting entrepreneurs, meeting successful teams and team leaders to reveal some “new truths”:

  • The right team size is usually one fewer person than what managers think they need.
  • The greatest question facing good teams is not how to succeed, but how to die.
  • Good “chemistry” often makes for the least effective teams.
  • Cognitive diversity yields the highest performance gains—but only if you understand what it is.
  • How to find the “bliss point” in team intimacy—and become three times more productive.
  • How to identify destructive team members before they do harm.
  • Why small teams are 40 percent more likely to create a successful breakthrough than a solo genius is.
  • Why groups of 7 (± 2), 150, and 1,500 are magic sizes for teams.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Teams—we depend on them for both our professional success and our personal happiness. But isn’t it odd how little scrutiny we give them? The teams that make up our lives are created mostly by luck, happenstance, or circumstance—but rarely by design. In trivial matters—say, a bowling team, the leadership of a neighborhood group, or a holiday party committee—success by serendipity is already risky enough. But when it comes to actions by fast-moving start-ups, major corporations, nonprofit institutions, and governments, leaving things to chance can be downright dangerous.

Research has concluded that people think differently from one another. But even when we accept that fact, few leaders give it much consideration when teams are formed. As a result, everything looks good on paper, the team members’ talents dovetail neatly, everyone gets along well and yet in action, the team just doesn’t work.

When it comes to teams, traditional definitions of “diversity” are meaningless. Cognitive diversity – how people think – is all that matters.

“Dream teams” don’t always perform as well as teams composed of lesser players who exhibit great chemistry do. All effective teams include individuals who can function together as the “brain systems” required to achieve the group’s task.

It’s not enough for resumes and personalities to match. In fact, doing so may be the worst thing you can do. Given the choice of a team that is a rainbow of races and cultures but whose members all went to the same or similar universities, and a team entirely composed of African American women (or Asian men) of different ages, classes, educations, and personality types, you are far more likely to have success with the latter.

To help foster this concept, leaders need to:

  • Know their own preferences, weaknesses, strengths, and understand how their own style can stifle creativity.

  • Help team members learn and acknowledge their intellectual preferences and differences.

  • Keep project goals front and center, and schedule time for divergent thinking (generating multiple options) and convergent thinking (focusing on a single option and its implementation).

  • Devise guidelines in advance for working together. For example, establish a rule (and get team members’ agreement) up front that any conflicts will not get personal and that any reasons for disagreements will always be stated.

Rich Karlgaard and Michael S. Malone, Team Genius

A NEXT STEP

When your team is stuck and can’t decide on moving forward, try the following exercise to evaluate ideas according to their level of innovation, their desirability, and feasibility.

  1. Write the idea or decision to be made on a chart tablet, and divide your team into three groups. Here’s the kicker: As leader of the team, try your best to place members of your team into groups that would not be their first choice. Give them 30 minutes to do their group work.
  2. The first group evaluates innovation – is the idea new? The group should evaluate the idea as:
    1. Disruptively new (might cause major consequences)
    2. Totally new (people might become familiar without major consequences)
    3. Improvement (improves something in a way people haven’t noticed before)
  3. The second group evaluates the desirability. Do people want this idea? What kind of needs are fulfilled? Evaluate the ideas as:
    1. Proof of need and desire – there is evidence of need and desire
    2. Assumed need and desire – there are high chances of need and desire
    3. Unknown need and desire.
  4. The third group will evaluate the feasibility. How will the idea be developed? Evaluate the idea as:
    1. Highly feasible
    2. Moderately feasible
    3. Not feasible
  5. At the conclusion of the group discussion period, bring everyone together and have each group report the highlights of their discussion, listing them on the chart tablet in the three areas of innovation, desirability, and feasibility.
  6. Utilize the newly discovered information to move forward with your idea or action.

The above exercise was adapted from 75 Tools for Creative Thinking, Booreiland


Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 49-3, published September 2016.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. Each Wednesday I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt here.

Photo by Climate KIC on Unsplash

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